The Friday 7/23/2021

Ivan Trojan: Charlatan (Strand Releasing)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Charlatan. “Holland has the character remain opaque, despite the stabs at explaining him, to the point where the final reels are almost excruciating in their depiction of a man who will not yield to our expectations of redemption or enlightenment. This is interesting.”

Tomorrow (that’s 7/24) at 11 a.m. Pacific Time I’ll be leading a Zoom discussion called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” as part of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau. This is presented by the Upper Skagit Library system, specifically the Concrete branch. The talk is free, and there’s more info and a link to register here.

The new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” is devoted to movie soundtracking by Quincy Jones. We look at how quickly Jones took to scoring films in the 1960s, and the second half of the show has considerable funk. Listen here.

You can also check in my show on 1980s neo-noir movie music, or the Beach Party craze. These are produced by Voice of Vashon.

Two vintage 1980s reviews posted to my other website, What a Feeling!: Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, a saucy early work from the director; and Ron Underwood’s Tremors, which I realized was actually released in January ’90 only after I typed it out, so there.

Movie Diary 7/21/2021

Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland, 2020). A difficult protagonist and handsome historical re-creation of late-50s Czechoslovakia mark Holland’s latest effort. It’ll play through SIFF’s revenue-sharing streaming thing starting tomorrow (when I will review properly).

Movie Diary 7/19/2021

Little Joe (Jessica Hausner, 2019). Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with scientists raising plants that will make people happy. Admittedly, this is up my alley, but even so it’s a striking movie, chillingly designed and spookily scored (using music by Teiji Ito). Hausner made Lourdes and Amour Fou; she is Austrian and meticulous, almost to a fault. She has a very good eye for – I don’t know how else to put this – the human, which is what the movie is about, after all, particularly as it resides in two female characters, the lead scientist (Emily Beecham), who is prickly and awkward, and a dog-loving researcher (Kerry Fox, quietly excellent), whose past history of mental illness is used against her. This is unnerving viewing, due to Hausner’s measured sense of timing and the deadpan way the action unfolds (there’s a brilliant scene where Beecham’s kid and his girlfriend seem to blurt out the whole nefarious plot, only to sarcastically take it back). With Ben Whishaw, David Wilmot, Kit Connor.

Movie Diary 7/18/2021

Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021). Outdoor concerts in Harlem, from the summer of 1969, seen in footage that was set aside for decades. Perhaps it will not surprise that the performances are wonderful and that the music is tied to activism. Is there too much talk over the music? Maybe, and one would like to see entire sets at DVD extras. But what’s here is lovely.

The Friday 7/16/2021

Kim Min-hee, Song Seon-mi: The Woman Who Ran (Cinema Guild)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

The Woman Who Ran. “Completely beguiling. Like Gam-hee’s manner (Kim Min-hee is a master of body language, squinching her gangling frame into a variety of chairs and tables, as though nonverbally asking, ‘Do I belong here?’), this movie looks casual, but something urgent and human is at stake.”

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” this one dedicated to “Eighties Neo-Noir,” the music of which ran from classic John Barry to synthesized Tangerine Dream. That’ll be online for the next ten days or so.

The previous episode, on the music of the Beach Party films and related phenomena, will be up for a few more days.

I’m a member of the 2021-23 Speakers Bureau for Humanities Washington, and I’ll give a talk for the Concrete Library, via Zoom, on Saturday, July 24, at 11 a.m. The talk is called “This Is the End: How the Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” in which I look at end-of-the-world films and how they predicted our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sign up here and join us.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I’ve added three vintage 1980s reviews. Namely: a twofer review of Beth B’s Salvation! and Philip Saville’s Shadey, the first a televangelist satire that brought together Viggo Mortensen and Exene Cervenka, the latter British whimsy with Antony Sher; Roger Young’s The Squeeze, an adventure-comedy with Michael Keaton and Rae Dawn Chong; and Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which has whales in it.

Movie Diary 7/14/2021

Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967). A completely random choice, and a good time. I had remembered that Alan Arkin dominated more, but he seems to have less screen time than Richard Crenna. Much of what Young does is standard-issue play adaptation, tweaked with the occasional faux-Hitchcock raised camera angle. There are some splendidly staged moments, including the beat when Audrey Hepburn realizes what’s going on, played not in close-up but in a suggestive middle-distance shot, the space around her newly charged with uncertainty. Arkin’s beatnik act seems way ahead of the rest of the old-fashioned movie, like a Nichols & May routine dropped into a Doris Day-Rock Hudson picture.

The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, 2020). Saw a lot of documentaries last year, but managed to miss this study of the truffle business in Italy. It is indeed engrossing, and easy on the eyes, stuffed with memorable characters and evocative landscapes. And yet you still want to know: How did the filmmakers get access to some of these moments?

Movie Diary 7/13/2021

Mirage (Edward Dmytryk, 1965). Only had a vague memory of this from the local-TV afternoon movie. Maybe that’s apt for a movie about amnesia, but it also says something about the film’s nondescript palette, and its generally less-than-urgent mood. The opening is cool: A Manhattan office tower blacks out, and Gregory Peck emerges with very little recollection of what he’s been doing there for two years; DP Joe MacDonald gets nice things going with some very pitch-black silhouettes, and the feeling is suitably disorienting. Diane Baker meets Peck in the dark, making veiled references to past events, and Jack Weston follows him to his apartment. After that, things slow down. The script is by Peter Stone, a couple of years after he wrote Charade, and there are snappy lines that sound like that world – but oh, what a distance there is between Cary Grant/Stanley Donen and Greg Peck/Eddie Dmytryk. There are kooks around: George Kennedy as a bespectacled heavy, Kevin McCarthy as a corporate man apparently escaped from a Billy Wilder movie, and Hari Rhodes as a sardonic cop. You could say Walter Matthau steals the movie, as a shambling private investigator on his first case, but the show is set up to let Matthau run away with his section of the picture (and of course he does), so it’s hardly theft. At one point Weston is talking about movies, and says, “Now that westerns have gone psycho…” which is a pretty awesome throwaway. The music is by Quincy Jones, who conjures up some avant-garde sounds justified by the story’s topsy turvy story. Overall, much flatter-footed than it should be, and Peck and Baker look like they come from completely different movie universes.

The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sangsoo, 2020). Another one of these. But I like that about Hong – they just keep coming. (Full review on 7/16)

Movie Diary 7/11/2021

From the Terrace (Mark Robson, 1960). From the category of Literary Adaptations Offering Fifties Audiences Hotcha Material, specifically an adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel. (One of the film’s big assertions is that women have sexual appetites.) The results are turgid (I mean storytelling-wise), slowed down by CinemaScope even if Robson and DP Leo Tover create some expressive compositions, mostly by allowing screen space to separate the alienated characters. Paul Newman returns to his fancy but loveless family mansion after the war, intending to start an aviation business with pal George Grizzard (his film debut, a flippy turn). A vintage angry young man, Newman’s parents are crusty Leon Ames and boozy Myrna Loy. He meets Philadelphia society girl Joanne Woodward, designed to within an inch of her life; her color palette is so specific it’s practically Hitchcockian, and she spends her first scenes draped in frosty platinum – even her hair is silver-white. We all learn that material success is perhaps not the answer to Newman’s unhappiness, especially after he meets a soulful Pennsylvania coal-country gal, played by Ina Balin, who has some of the dazed aura of the young Lorraine Bracco (same voice, too). The film bulges with episodes that suggest the longer shadow of a novel, like chauffeur Malcolm Atterbury’s defiance of his cranky boss, or party girl Barbara Eden’s horny aggression (“She’s very inventive,” says Grizzard). Give Robson credit for thinking with the camera: There’s a deft moment of visual storytelling when Woodward is on the phone with faraway Newman, listing the friends at the ritzy party unfolding behind her, and after she hangs up, the camera just drifts a little to reveal ex-beau Patrick O’Neal standing there, his presence unmentioned in her account. Robson also uncorks a rare thunderclap close-up of Newman’s eyes the moment he spots Woodward for the first time – man, that must’ve looked wild on a big screen. Newman’s homecoming plays as an intriguing variation on a famous scene from The Best Years of Our Lives – also featuring Loy – the reunion after the wartime separation. Best Years has that beautiful set-up looking down the hallway, emphasizing the distance between husband and wife as they rush to each other. From the Terrace has Loy again, but this time as a drunken mother welcoming her son; the scene is at night, and the camera is on her, moving as she moves and then wobbling as she crashes to the sidewalk. No elegant limning of absence and longing here, just unseemly awkwardness. These interesting directing moments (and a handsome Elmer Bernstein score) can’t rescue the movie from its general tedium – nor the inescapable conclusion that Newman’s performance is an absolute bore.

The Friday 7/9/2021

Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle: No Sudden Move (Claudette Barius/Warner Bros)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

No Sudden Move. “Like so much of what Soderbergh works on these days, the thing seems modest in its ambitions, until you reach particular moments (some big speechifying from a regular Soderbergh player in the final 20 minutes) and the pattern locks into place.”

Catch the sunbeam with my new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” produced by Voice of Vashon, which delves into the Beach Party movies and satellite phenomena. We’ve got Frankie and Annette, Moondoggie and Gidget, Donna Loren and Stevie Wonder, Jack Nitzsche and Brian Wilson. Please, listen.

The previous episode is also still online for a few days: My look at music from film year 2001.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I posted three vintage 1980s reviews this week. Here’s stuff on: Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, in which – well, you know what happens; Herbert Ross’s Secret of My Success, with Michael J. Fox in a box-office smash without really trying; and a twofer review of Jerry Schatzberg’s Street Smart, a Christopher Reeve picture that put Morgan Freeman onto a new level, and Tibor Takacs’ The Gate, a youth-horror flick that launched Steven Dorff’s movie career.

Movie Diary 7/5/2021

Patterns (Fielder Cook, 1955). Had never seen the live Kraft Television Theatre version of Rod Serling’s landmark drama. You can see why it made such a strong impression – the cruelty of the corporate world is strongly drawn, of course, but there’s also a grown-up tartness to the dialogue, and a rather ambiguous ending that lingers long after a more conventional conclusion might’ve done. The attention paid to characters with limited screen time – Elizabeth Wilson’s concerned secretary, for instance – is also very sharp. Everett Sloane and Ed Begley carried over their roles to the big-screen version a year later, but Richard Kiley (replaced for the film by Van Heflin) is also very good; his tall, athletic presence just the right counterpoint to the fogies in the boardroom. The hour-long running time feels appropriate, too, a pressured environment to suit the subject. I always liked Fielder Cook’s TV work, and his rhythm here is spot-on. Serling had been writing for TV for five years, but this made him famous overnight.